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´╗┐Title: Diplomatic Immunity
Author: Sheckley, Robert, 1928-2005
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Diplomatic Immunity" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction August 1953.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.

                         diplomatic immunity

                          By ROBERT SHECKLEY

                        Illustrated by ASHMAN

     _He said he wasn't immortal--but nothing could kill him.
      Still, if the Earth was to live as a free world, he had to

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come right in, gentlemen," the Ambassador waved them into the very
special suite the State Department had given him. "Please be seated."

Colonel Cercy accepted a chair, trying to size up the individual who
had all Washington chewing its fingernails. The Ambassador hardly
looked like a menace. He was of medium height and slight build,
dressed in a conservative brown tweed suit that the State Department
had given him. His face was intelligent, finely molded and aloof.

_As human as a human_, Cercy thought, studying the alien with bleak,
impersonal eyes.

"How may I serve you?" the Ambassador asked, smiling.

"The President has put me in charge of your case," Cercy said. "I've
studied Professor Darrig's reports--" he nodded at the scientist
beside him--"but I'd like to hear the whole thing for myself."

"Of course," the alien said, lighting a cigarette. He seemed genuinely
pleased to be asked; which was interesting, Cercy thought. In the week
since he had landed, every important scientist in the country had been
at him.

_But in a pinch they call the Army_, Cercy reminded himself. He
settled back in his chair, both hands jammed carelessly in his
pockets. His right hand was resting on the butt of a .45, the safety

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have come," the alien said, "as an ambassador-at-large,
representing an empire that stretches half-way across the Galaxy. I
wish to extend the welcome of my people and to invite you to join our

"I see," Cercy replied. "Some of the scientists got the impression
that participation was compulsory."

"You will join," the Ambassador said, blowing smoke through his

Cercy could see Darrig stiffen in his chair and bite his lip. Cercy
moved the automatic to a position where he could draw it easily. "How
did you find us?" he asked.

"We ambassadors-at-large are each assigned an unexplored section of
space," the alien said. "We examine each star-system in that region
for planets, and each planet for intelligent life. Intelligent life is
rare in the Galaxy, you know."

Cercy nodded, although he hadn't been aware of the fact.

"When we find such a planet, we land, as I did, and prepare the
inhabitants for their part in our organization."

"How will your people know that you have found intelligent life?"
Cercy asked.

"There is a sending mechanism that is part of our structure," the
Ambassador answered. "It is triggered when we reach an inhabited
planet. This signal is beamed continually into space, to an effective
range of several thousand light-years. Follow-up crews are continually
sweeping through the limits of the reception area of each Ambassador,
listening for such messages. Detecting one, a colonizing team follows
it to the planet."

He tapped his cigarette delicately on the edge of an ash tray. "This
method has definite advantages over sending combined colonization and
exploration teams obviously. It avoids the necessity of equipping
large forces for what may be decades of searching."

"Sure." Cercy's face was expressionless. "Would you tell me more about
this message?"

"There isn't much more you need know. The beam is not detectable by
your methods and, therefore, cannot be jammed. The message continues
as long as I am alive."

       *       *       *       *       *

Darrig drew in his breath sharply, glancing at Cercy.

"If you stopped broadcasting," Cercy said casually, "our planet would
never be found."

"Not until this section of space was resurveyed," the diplomat agreed.

"Very well. As a duly appointed representative of the President of the
United States, I ask you to stop transmitting. We don't choose to
become part of your empire."

"I'm sorry," the Ambassador said. He shrugged his shoulders easily.
Cercy wondered how many times he had played this scene on how many
other planets.

"There's really nothing I can do." He stood up.

"Then you won't stop?"

"I can't. I have no control over the sending, once it's activated."
The diplomat turned and walked to the window. "However, I have
prepared a philosophy for you. It is my duty, as your Ambassador, to
ease the shock of transition as much as possible. This philosophy will
make it instantly apparent that--"

As the Ambassador reached the window, Cercy's gun was out of his
pocket and roaring. He squeezed six rounds in almost a single
explosion, aiming at the Ambassador's head and back. Then an
uncontrollable shudder ran through him.

The Ambassador was no longer there!

       *       *       *       *       *

Cercy and Darrig stared at each other. Darrig muttered something about
ghosts. Then, just as suddenly, the Ambassador was back.

"You didn't think," he said, "that it would be as easy as all that,
did you? We Ambassadors have, necessarily, a certain diplomatic
immunity." He fingered one of the bullet holes in the wall. "In case
you don't understand, let me put it this way. It is not in your power
to kill me. You couldn't even understand the nature of my defense."

He looked at them, and in that moment Cercy felt the Ambassador's
complete alienness.

"Good day, gentlemen," he said.

Darrig and Cercy walked silently back to the control room. Neither had
really expected that the Ambassador would be killed so easily, but it
had still been a shock when the slugs had failed.

"I suppose you saw it all, Malley?" Cercy asked, when he reached the
control room.

The thin, balding psychiatrist nodded sadly. "Got it on film, too."

"I wonder what his philosophy is," Darrig mused, half to himself.

"It was illogical to expect it would work. No race would send an
ambassador with a message like that and expect him to live through it.

"Unless what?"

"Unless he had a pretty effective defense," the psychiatrist finished

Cercy walked across the room and looked at the video panel. The
Ambassador's suite was very special. It had been hurriedly constructed
two days after he had landed and delivered his message. The suite was
steel and lead lined, filled with video and movie cameras, recorders,
and a variety of other things.

It was the last word in elaborate death cells.

In the screen, Cercy could see the Ambassador sitting at a table. He
was typing on a little portable the Government had given him.

"Hey, Harrison!" Cercy called. "Might as well go ahead with Plan Two."

Harrison came out of a side room where he had been examining the
circuits leading to the Ambassador's suite. Methodically he checked
his pressure gauges, set the controls and looked at Cercy. "Now?" he

"Now." Cercy watched the screen. The Ambassador was still typing.

Suddenly, as Harrison sent home the switch, the room was engulfed in
flames. Fire blasted out of concealed holes in the walls, poured from
the ceiling and floor.

In a moment, the room was like the inside of a blast furnace.

Cercy let it burn for two minutes, then motioned Harrison to cut the
switch. They stared at the roasted room.

They were looking, hopefully, for a charred corpse.

But the Ambassador reappeared beside his desk, looking ruefully at the
charred typewriter. He was completely unsinged.

"Could you get me another typewriter?" he asked, looking directly at
one of the hidden projectors. "I'm setting down a philosophy for you
ungrateful wretches."

He seated himself in the wreckage of an armchair. In a moment, he was
apparently asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

"All right, everyone grab a seat," Cercy said. "Time for a council of

Malley straddled a chair backward. Harrison lighted a pipe as he sat
down, slowly puffing it into life.

"Now, then," Cercy said. "The Government has dropped this squarely in
our laps. We have to kill the Ambassador--obviously. I've been put in
charge." Cercy grinned with regret. "Probably because no one higher up
wants the responsibility of failure. And I've selected you three as my
staff. We can have anything we want, any assistance or advice we need.
All right. Any ideas?"

"How about Plan Three?" Harrison asked.

"We'll get to that," Cercy said. "But I don't believe it's going to

"I don't either," Darrig agreed. "We don't even know the nature of his

"That's the first order of business. Malley, take all our data so far,
and get someone to feed it into the Derichman Analyzer. You know the
stuff we want. What properties has X, if X can do thus and thus?"

"Right," Malley said. He left, muttering something about the
ascendancy of the physical sciences.

"Harrison," Cercy asked, "is Plan Three set up?"


"Give it a try."

While Harrison was making his last adjustments, Cercy watched Darrig.
The plump little physicist was staring thoughtfully into space,
muttering to himself. Cercy hoped he would come up with something. He
was expecting great things of Darrig.

Knowing the impossibility of working with great numbers of people,
Cercy had picked his staff with care. Quality was what he wanted.

With that in mind, he had chosen Harrison first. The stocky,
sour-faced engineer had a reputation for being able to build anything,
given half an idea of how it worked.

Cercy had selected Malley, the psychiatrist, because he wasn't sure
that killing the Ambassador was going to be a purely physical problem.

Darrig was a mathematical physicist, but his restless, curious mind
had come up with some interesting theories in other fields. He was the
only one of the four who was really interested in the Ambassador as an
intellectual problem.

"He's like Metal Old Man," Darrig said finally.

"What's that?"

"Haven't you ever heard the story of Metal Old Man? Well, he was a
monster covered with black metal armor. He was met by Monster-Slayer,
an Apache culture hero. Monster-Slayer, after many attempts, finally
killed Metal Old Man."

"How did he do it?"

"Shot him in the armpit. He didn't have any armor there."

"Fine," Cercy grinned. "Ask our Ambassador to raise his arm."

"All set!" Harrison called.

"Fine. Go."

In the Ambassador's room, an invisible spray of gamma rays silently
began to flood the room with deadly radiation.

But there was no Ambassador to receive them.

"That's enough," Cercy said, after a while. "That would kill a herd of

But the Ambassador stayed invisible for five hours, until some of the
radioactivity had abated. Then he appeared again.

"I'm still waiting for that typewriter," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Here's the Analyzer's report." Malley handed Cercy a sheaf of papers.
"This is the final formulation, boiled down."

Cercy read it aloud: "The simplest defense against any and all
weapons, is to _become_ each particular weapon."

"Great," Harrison said. "What does it mean?"

"It means," Darrig explained, "that when we attack the Ambassador with
fire, he turns into fire. Shoot at him, and he turns into a
bullet--until the menace is gone, and then he changes back again." He
took the papers out of Cercy's hand and riffled through them.

"Hmm. Wonder if there's any historical parallel? Don't suppose so." He
raised his head. "Although this isn't conclusive, it seems logical
enough. Any other defense would involve recognition of the weapon
first, then an appraisal, then a countermove predicated on the
potentialities of the weapon. The Ambassador's defense would be a lot
faster and safer. He wouldn't have to recognize the weapon. I suppose
his body simply _identifies_, in some way, with the menace at hand."

"Did the Analyzer say there was any way of breaking this defense?"
Cercy asked.

"The Analyzer stated definitely that there was no way, if the premise
were true," Malley answered gloomily.

"We can discard that judgment," Darrig said. "The machine is limited."

"But we still haven't got any way of stopping him," Malley pointed
out. "And he's still broadcasting that beam."

Cercy thought for a moment. "Call in every expert you can find. We're
going to throw the book at the Ambassador. I know," he said, looking
at Darrig's dubious expression, "but we have to try."

       *       *       *       *       *

During the next few days, every combination and permutation of death
was thrown at the Ambassador. He was showered with weapons, ranging
from Stone-Age axes to modern high-powered rifles, peppered with hand
grenades, drowned in acid, suffocated in poison gas.

He kept shrugging his shoulders philosophically, and continued to work
on the new typewriter they had given him.

Bacteria was piped in, first the known germ diseases, then mutated

The diplomat didn't even sneeze.

He was showered with electricity, radiation, wooden weapons, iron
weapons, copper weapons, brass weapons, uranium weapons--anything and
everything, just to cover all possibilities.

He didn't suffer a scratch, but his room looked as though a bar-room
brawl had been going on in it continually for fifty years.

Malley was working on an idea of his own, as was Darrig. The physicist
interrupted himself long enough to remind Cercy of the Baldur myth.
Baldur had been showered with every kind of weapon and remained
unscathed, because everything on Earth had promised to love him.
Everything, except the mistletoe. When a little twig of it was shot at
him, he died.

Cercy turned away impatiently, but had an order of mistletoe sent up,
just in case.

It was, at least, no less effective than the explosive shells or the
bow and arrow. It did nothing except lend an oddly festive air to the
battered room.

After a week of this, they moved the unprotesting Ambassador into a
newer, bigger, stronger death cell. They were unable to venture into
his old one because of the radioactivity and micro-organisms.

The Ambassador went back to work at his typewriter. All his previous
attempts had been burned, torn or eaten away.

"Let's go talk to him," Darrig suggested, after another day had
passed. Cercy agreed. For the moment, they were out of ideas.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come right in, gentlemen," the Ambassador said, so cheerfully that
Cercy felt sick. "I'm sorry I can't offer you anything. Through an
oversight, I haven't been given any food or water for about ten days.
Not that it matters, of course."

"Glad to hear it," Cercy said. The Ambassador hardly looked as if he
had been facing all the violence Earth had to offer. On the contrary,
Cercy and his men looked as though they had been under bombardment.

"You've got quite a defense there," Malley said conversationally.

"Glad you like it."

"Would you mind telling us how it works?" Darrig asked innocently.

"Don't you know?"

"We think so. You become what is attacking you. Is that right?"

"Certainly," the Ambassador said. "You see, I have no secrets from

"Is there anything we can give you," Cercy asked, "to get you to turn
off that signal?"

"A bribe?"

"Sure," Cercy said. "Anything you--?"

"Nothing," the Ambassador replied.

"Look, be reasonable," Harrison said. "You don't want to cause a war,
do you? Earth is united now. We're arming--"

"With what?"

"Atom bombs," Malley answered him. "Hydrogen bombs. We're--"

"Drop one on me," the Ambassador said. "It wouldn't kill me. What
makes you think it will have any effect on my people?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The four men were silent. Somehow, they hadn't thought of that.

"A people's ability to make war," the Ambassador stated, "is a measure
of the status of their civilization. Stage one is the use of simple
physical extensions. Stage two is control at the molecular level. You
are on the threshold of stage three, although still far from mastery
of atomic and subatomic forces." He smiled ingratiatingly. "My people
are reaching the limits of stage five."

"What would that be?" Darrig asked.

"You'll find out," the Ambassador said. "But perhaps you've wondered
if my powers are typical? I don't mind telling you that they're not.
In order for me to do my job and nothing more, I have certain built-in
restrictions, making me capable only of passive action."

"Why?" Darrig asked.

"For obvious reasons. If I were to take positive action in a moment of
anger, I might destroy your entire planet."

"Do you expect us to believe that?" Cercy asked.

"Why not? Is it so hard to understand? Can't you believe that there
are forces you know nothing about? And there is another reason for my
passiveness. Certainly by this time you've deduced it?"

"To break our spirit, I suppose," Cercy said.

"Exactly. My telling you won't make any difference, either. The
pattern is always the same. An Ambassador lands and delivers his
message to a high-spirited, wild young race like yours. There is
frenzied resistance against him, spasmodic attempts to kill him. After
all these fail, the people are usually quite crestfallen. When the
colonization team arrives, their indoctrination goes along just that
much faster." He paused, then said, "Most planets are more interested
in the philosophy I have to offer. I assure you, it will make the
transition far easier."

He held out a sheaf of typewritten pages. "Won't you at least look
through it?"

Darrig accepted the papers and put them in his pocket. "When I get

"I suggest you give it a try," the Ambassador said. "You must be near
the crisis point now. Why not give it up?"

"Not yet," Cercy replied tonelessly.

"Don't forget to read the philosophy," the Ambassador urged them.

The men hurried from the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now look," Malley said, once they were back in the control room,
"there are a few things we haven't tried. How about utilizing

"Anything you like," Cercy agreed, "including black magic. What did
you have in mind?"

"The way I see it," Malley answered, "the Ambassador is geared to
respond, instantaneously, to any threat. He must have an
all-or-nothing defensive reflex. I suggest first that we try something
that won't trigger that reflex."

"Like what?" Cercy asked.

"Hypnotism. Perhaps we can find out something."

"Sure," Cercy said. "Try it. Try anything."

Cercy, Malley and Darrig gathered around the video screen as an
infinitesimal amount of a light hypnotic gas was admitted into the
Ambassador's room. At the same time, a bolt of electricity lashed into
the chair where the Ambassador was sitting.

"That was to distract him," Malley explained. The Ambassador vanished
before the electricity struck him, and then appeared again, curled up
in his armchair.

"That's enough," Malley whispered, and shut the valve. They watched.
After a while, the Ambassador put down his book and stared into the

"How strange," he said. "Alfern dead. Good friend ... just a freak
accident. He ran into it, out there. Didn't have a chance. But it
doesn't happen often."

"He's thinking out loud," Malley whispered, although there was no
possibility of the Ambassador's hearing them. "Vocalizing his
thoughts. His friend must have been on his mind for some time."

"Of course," the Ambassador went on, "Alfern had to die sometime. No
immortality--yet. But that way--no defense. Out there in space they
just pop up. Always there, underneath, just waiting for a chance to
boil out."

"His body isn't reacting to the hypnotic as a menace yet," Cercy

"Well," the Ambassador told himself, "the regularizing principle has
been doing pretty well, keeping it all down, smoothing out the

Suddenly he leaped to his feet, his face pale for a moment, as he
obviously tried to remember what he had said. Then he laughed.

"Clever. That's the first time that particular trick has been played
on me, and the last time. But, gentlemen, it didn't do you any good. I
don't know, myself, how to go about killing me." He laughed at the
blank walls.

"Besides," he continued, "the colonizing team must have the direction
now. They'll find you with or without me."

He sat down again, smiling.

       *       *       *       *       *

"That does it!" Darrig cried. "He's not invulnerable. Something killed
his friend Alfern."

"Something out in space," Cercy reminded him. "I wonder what it was."

"Let me see," Darrig reflected aloud. "The regularizing principle.
That must be a natural law we knew nothing about. And underneath--what
would be underneath?"

"He said the colonization team would find us anyhow," Malley reminded

"First things first," Cercy said. "He might have been bluffing us ...
no, I don't suppose so. We still have to get the Ambassador out of the

"I think I know what is underneath!" Darrig exclaimed. "This is
wonderful. A new cosmology, perhaps."

"What is it?" Cercy asked. "Anything we can use?"

"I think so. But let me work it out. I think I'll go back to my hotel.
I have some books there I want to check, and I don't want to be
disturbed for a few hours."

"All right," Cercy agreed. "But what--?"


"No, no, I could be wrong," Darrig said. "Let me work it out." He
hurried from the room.

"What do you think he's driving at?" Malley asked.

"Beats me," Cercy shrugged. "Come on, let's try some more of that
psychological stuff."

First they filled the Ambassador's room with several feet of water.
Not enough to drown him, just enough to make him good and

To this, they added the lights. For eight hours, lights flashed in the
Ambassador's room. Bright lights to pry under his eyelids; dull,
clashing ones to disturb him.

Sound came next--screeches and screams and shrill, grating noises. The
sound of a man's fingernails being dragged across slate, amplified a
thousand times, and strange, sucking noises, and shouts and whispers.

Then, the smells. Then, everything else they could think of that could
drive a man insane.

The Ambassador slept peacefully through it all.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now look," Cercy said, the following day, "let's start using our
damned heads." His voice was hoarse and rough. Although the
psychological torture hadn't bothered the Ambassador, it seemed to
have backfired on Cercy and his men.

"Where in hell is Darrig?"

"Still working on that idea of his," Malley said, rubbing his stubbled
chin. "Says he's just about got it."

"We'll work on the assumption that he can't produce," Cercy said.
"Start thinking. For example, if the Ambassador can turn into
anything, what is there he can't turn into?"

"Good question," Harrison grunted.

"It's the payoff question," Cercy said. "No use throwing a spear at a
man who can turn into one."

"How about this?" Malley asked. "Taking it for granted he can turn
into anything, how about putting him in a situation where he'll be
attacked even _after_ he alters?"

"I'm listening," Cercy said.

"Say he's in danger. He turns into the thing threatening him. What if
_that thing_ were itself being threatened? And, in turn, was in the
act of threatening something else? What would he do then?"

"How are you going to put that into action?" Cercy asked.

"Like this." Malley picked up the telephone. "Hello? Give me the
Washington Zoo. This is urgent."

The Ambassador turned as the door opened. An unwilling, angry, hungry
tiger was propelled in. The door slammed shut.

The tiger looked at the Ambassador. The Ambassador looked at the

"Most ingenious," the Ambassador said.

At the sound of his voice, the tiger came unglued. He sprang like a
steel spring uncoiling, landing on the floor where the Ambassador had

The door opened again. Another tiger was pushed in. He snarled angrily
and leaped at the first. They smashed together in midair.

The Ambassador appeared a few feet off, watching. He moved back when a
lion entered the door, head up and alert. The lion sprang at him,
almost going over on his head when he struck nothing. Not finding any
human, the lion leaped on one of the tigers.

The Ambassador reappeared in his chair, where he sat smoking and
watching the beasts kill each other.

In ten minutes the room looked like an abattoir.

But by then the Ambassador had tired of the spectacle, and was
reclining on his bed, reading.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I give up," Malley said. "That was my last bright idea."

Cercy stared at the floor, not answering. Harrison was seated in the
corner, getting quietly drunk.

The telephone rang.

"Yeah?" Cercy said.

"I've got it!" Darrig's voice shouted over the line. "I really think
this is it. Look, I'm taking a cab right down. Tell Harrison to find
some helpers."

"What is it?" Cercy asked.

"The chaos underneath!" Darrig replied, and hung up.

They paced the floor, waiting for him to show up. Half an hour passed,
then an hour. Finally, three hours after he had called, Darrig
strolled in.

"Hello," he said casually.

"Hello, hell!" Cercy growled. "What kept you?"

"On the way over," Darrig said, "I read the Ambassador's philosophy.
It's quite a work."

"Is that what took you so long?"

"Yes. I had the driver take me around the park a few times, while I
was reading it."

"Skip it. How about--"

"I can't skip it," Darrig said, in a strange, tight voice. "I'm afraid
we were wrong. About the aliens, I mean. It's perfectly right and
proper that they should rule us. As a matter of fact, I wish they'd
hurry up and get here."

But Darrig didn't look certain. His voice shook and perspiration
poured from his face. He twisted his hands together, as though in

"It's hard to explain," he said. "Everything became clear as soon as I
started reading it. I saw how stupid we were, trying to be
independent in this interdependent Universe. I saw--oh, look, Cercy.
Let's stop all this foolishness and accept the Ambassador as our

"Calm down!" Cercy shouted at the perfectly calm physicist. "You don't
know what you're saying."

"It's strange," Darrig said. "I know how I felt--I just don't feel
that way any more. I think. Anyhow, I know _your_ trouble. You haven't
read the philosophy. You'll see what I mean, once you've read it." He
handed Cercy the pile of papers. Cercy promptly ignited them with his
cigarette lighter.

"It doesn't matter," Darrig said. "I've got it memorized. Just listen.
Axiom one. All peoples--"

Cercy hit him, a short, clean blow, and Darrig slumped to the floor.

"Those words must be semantically keyed," Malley said. "They're
designed to set off certain reactions in us, I suppose. All the
Ambassador does is alter the philosophy to suit the peoples he's
dealing with."

"Look, Malley," Cercy said. "This is your job now. Darrig knows, or
thought he knew, the answer. You have to get that out of him."

"That won't be easy," Malley said. "He'd feel that he was betraying
everything he believes in, if he were to tell us."

"I don't care how you get it," Cercy said. "Just get it."

"Even if it kills him?" Malley asked.

"Even if it kills you."

"Help me get him to my lab," Malley said.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night Cercy and Harrison kept watch on the Ambassador from the
control room. Cercy found his thoughts were racing in circles.

What had killed Alfern in space? Could it be duplicated on Earth? What
was the regularizing principle? What was the chaos underneath?

_What in hell am I doing here?_ he asked himself. But he couldn't
start that sort of thing.

"What do you figure the Ambassador is?" he asked Harrison. "Is he a

"Looks like one," Harrison said drowsily.

"But he doesn't act like one. I wonder if this is his true shape?"

Harrison shook his head, and lighted his pipe.

"What is there of him?" Cercy asked. "He looks like a man, but he can
change into anything else. You can't attack him; he adapts. He's like
water, taking the shape of any vessel he's poured into."

"You can boil water," Harrison yawned.

"Sure. Water hasn't any shape, has it? Or has it? What's basic?"

With an effort, Harrison tried to focus on Cercy's words. "Molecular
pattern? The matrix?"

"Matrix," Cercy repeated, yawning himself. "Pattern. Must be something
like that. A pattern is abstract, isn't it?"

"Sure. A pattern can be impressed on anything. What did I say?"

"Let's see," Cercy said. "Pattern. Matrix. Everything about the
Ambassador is capable of change. There must be some unifying force
that retains his personality. Something that _doesn't_ change, no
matter what contortions he goes through."

"Like a piece of string," Harrison murmured with his eyes closed.

"Sure. Tie it in knots, weave a rope out of it, wind it around your
finger; it's still string."


"But how do you attack a pattern?" Cercy asked. And why couldn't he
get some sleep? To hell with the Ambassador and his hordes of
colonists, he was going to close his eyes for a moment....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Wake up, Colonel!"

Cercy pried his eyes open and looked up at Malley. Besides him,
Harrison was snoring deeply. "Did you get anything?"

"Not a thing," Malley confessed. "The philosophy must've had quite an
effect on him. But it didn't work all the way. Darrig knew that he
_had wanted_ to kill the Ambassador, and for good and sufficient
reasons. Although he felt differently now, he still had the feeling
that he was betraying us. On the one hand, he couldn't hurt the
Ambassador; on the other, he wouldn't hurt us."

"Won't he tell anything?"

"I'm afraid it's not that simple," Malley said. "You know, if you have
an insurmountable obstacle that _must_ be surmounted ... and also, I
think the philosophy had an injurious effect on his mind."

"What are you trying to say?" Cercy got to his feet.

"I'm sorry," Malley apologized, "there wasn't a damned thing I could
do. Darrig fought the whole thing out in his mind, and when he
couldn't fight any longer, he--retreated. I'm afraid he's hopelessly

"Let's see him."

They walked down the corridor to Malley's laboratory. Darrig was
relaxed on a couch, his eyes glazed and staring.

"Is there any way of curing him?" Cercy asked.

"Shock therapy, maybe." Malley was dubious. "It'll take a long time.
And he'll probably block out everything that had to do with producing

Cercy turned away, feeling sick. Even if Darrig could be cured, it
would be too late. The aliens must have picked up the Ambassador's
message by now and were undoubtedly heading for Earth.

"What's this?" Cercy asked, picking up a piece of paper that lay by
Darrig's hand.

"Oh, he was doodling," Malley said. "Is there anything written on it?"

Cercy read aloud: "'Upon further consideration I can see that Chaos
and the Gorgon Medusa are closely related.'"

"What does that mean?" Malley asked.

"I don't know," Cercy puzzled. "He was always interested in folklore."

"Sounds schizophrenic," the psychiatrist said.

Cercy read it again. "'Upon further consideration, I can see that
Chaos and the Gorgon Medusa are closely related.'" He stared at it.
"Isn't it possible," he asked Malley, "that he was trying to give us a
clue? Trying to trick himself into giving and not giving at the same

"It's possible," Malley agreed. "An unsuccessful compromise--But what
could it mean?"

"Chaos." Cercy remembered Darrig's mentioning that word in his
telephone call. "That was the original state of the Universe in Greek
myth, wasn't it? The formlessness out of which everything came?"

"Something like that," Malley said. "And Medusa was one of those three
sisters with the horrible faces."

Cercy stood for a moment, staring at the paper. Chaos ... Medusa ...
and the organizing principle! Of course!

"I think--" He turned and ran from the room. Malley looked at him;
then loaded a hypodermic and followed.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the control room, Cercy shouted Harrison into consciousness.

"Listen," he said, "I want you to build something, quick. Do you hear

"Sure." Harrison blinked and sat up. "What's the rush?"

"I know what Darrig wanted to tell us," Cercy said. "Come on, I'll
tell you what I want. And Malley, put down that hypodermic. I haven't
cracked. I want you to get me a book on Greek mythology. And hurry it

Finding a Greek mythology isn't an easy task at two o'clock in the
morning. With the aid of FBI men, Malley routed a book dealer out of
bed. He got his book and hurried back.

Cercy was red-eyed and excited, and Harrison and his helpers were
working away at three crazy looking rigs. Cercy snatched the book from
Malley, looked up one item, and put it down.

"Great work," he said. "We're all set now. Finished, Harrison?"

"Just about." Harrison and ten helpers were screwing in the last
parts. "Will you tell me what this is?"

"Me too," Malley put in.

"I don't mean to be secretive," Cercy said. "I'm just in a hurry. I'll
explain as we go along." He stood up. "Okay, let's wake up the

       *       *       *       *       *

They watched the screen as a bolt of electricity leaped from the
ceiling to the Ambassador's bed. Immediately, the Ambassador vanished.

"Now he's a part of that stream of electrons, right?" Cercy asked.

"That's what he told us," Malley said.

"But still keeping his pattern, within the stream," Cercy continued.
"He has to, in order to get back into his own shape. Now we start the
first disrupter."

Harrison hooked the machine into circuit, and sent his helpers away.

"Here's a running graph of the electron stream," Cercy said. "See the
difference?" On the graph there was an irregular series of peaks and
valleys, constantly shifting and leveling. "Do you remember when you
hypnotized the Ambassador? He talked about his friend who'd been
killed in space."

"That's right," Malley nodded. "His friend had been killed by
something that had just popped up."

"He said something else," Cercy went on. "He told us that the basic
organizing force of the Universe usually stopped things like that.
What does that mean to you?"

"The organizing force," Malley repeated slowly. "Didn't Darrig say
that that was a new natural law?"

"He did. But think of the implications, as Darrig did. If an
organizing principle is engaged in some work, there must be something
that opposes it. That which opposes organization is--"


"That's what Darrig thought, and what we should have seen. The chaos
is underlying, and out of it there arose an organizing principle. This
principle, if I've got it right, sought to suppress the fundamental
chaos, to make all things regular.

"But the chaos still boils out in spots, as Alfern found out. Perhaps
the organizational pattern is weaker in space. Anyhow, those spots are
dangerous, until the organizing principle gets to work on them."



       *       *       *       *       *

He turned to the panel. "Okay, Harrison. Throw in the second
disrupter." The peaks and valleys altered on the graph. They started
to mount in crazy, meaningless configurations.

"Take Darrig's message in the light of that. Chaos, we know, is
underlying. Everything was formed out of it. The Gorgon Medusa was
something that _couldn't be looked upon_. She turned men into stone,
you recall, destroyed them. So, Darrig found a relationship between
chaos and that which can't be looked upon. All with regard to the
Ambassador, of course."

"The Ambassador can't look upon chaos!" Malley cried.

"That's it. The Ambassador is capable of an infinite number of
alterations and permutations. But _something_--the matrix--can't
change, because then there would be nothing left. To destroy something
as abstract as a pattern, we need a state in which no pattern is
possible. A state of chaos."

The third disrupter was thrown into circuit. The graph looked as if a
drunken caterpillar had been sketching on it.

"Those disrupters are Harrison's idea," Cercy said. "I told him I
wanted an electrical current with absolutely no coherent pattern. The
disrupters are an extension of radio jamming. The first alters the
electrical pattern. That's its purpose: to produce a state of
patternlessness. The second tries to destroy the pattern left by the
first; the third tries to destroy the pattern made by the first two.
They're fed back then, and any remaining pattern is systematically
destroyed in circuit ... I hope."

"This is supposed to produce a state of chaos?" Malley asked, looking
into the screen.

For a while there was only the whining of the machines and the crazy
doodling of the graph. Then, in the middle of the Ambassador's room, a
spot appeared. It wavered, shrunk, expanded--

What happened was indescribable. All they knew was that everything
within the spot had disappeared.

"Switch it off" Cercy shouted. Harrison cut the switch.

The spot continued to grow.

"How is it we're able to look at it?" Malley asked, staring at the

"The shield of Perseus, remember?" Cercy said. "Using it as a mirror,
he could look at Medusa."

"It's still growing!" Malley shouted.

"There was a calculated risk in all this," Cercy said. "There's always
the possibility that the chaos may go on, unchecked. If that happens,
it won't matter much what--"

The spot stopped growing. Its edges wavered and rippled, and then it
started to shrink.

"The organizing principle," Cercy said, and collapsed into a chair.

"Any sign of the Ambassador?" he asked, in a few minutes.

The spot was still wavering. Then it was gone. Instantly there was an
explosion. The steel walls buckled inward, but held. The screen went

"The spot removed all the air from the room," Cercy explained, "as
well as the furniture and the Ambassador."

"He couldn't take it," Malley said. "No pattern can cohere, in a state
of patternlessness. He's gone to join Alfern."

Malley started to giggle. Cercy felt like joining him, but pulled
himself together.

"Take it easy," he said. "We're not through yet."

"Sure we are! The Ambassador--"

"Is out of the way. But there's still an alien fleet homing in on this
region of space. A fleet so strong we couldn't scratch it with an
H-bomb. They'll be looking for us."

He stood up.

"Go home and get some sleep. Something tells me that tomorrow we're
going to have to start figuring out some way of camouflaging a

                                                     --ROBERT SHECKLEY

       *       *       *       *       *

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